by TR Steve “El Rey” King
Editor’s note: This post is a lyrical tribute to sea caves. Included are many photos of sea caves we have known over the years. Each cave has its own personality. We hope you enjoy this post as much as we’ve enjoyed meeting our friends, the caves.
Many Tsunami journeys (and videos) have shared the magic, danger, mystery and adrenaline-inducing interface of kayakers with sea caves, especially when the surf is crashing. In many ways, caves are people too in their personalities and relationships, their moods and teachings.
In the history of human evolution, caves on land and sea are powerful places that call and validate the relationship of humans to spiritual and natural forces. Witness the exquisite documentary film by Werner Herzog, “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” that pushes back the timeline of the origin of human art by 10,000 plus years, with three dimensional rock art paintings of a variety of game animals and a saber tooth tiger head perched on a pedestal on a rock in the entrance of the cave. (What am I talking about? Watch this amazing film!)
On land, rivers course through and create caves, often leading to sacred areas where shamans have paid homage to the spirits of the earth by performing rituals and offerings to the spirit world, including vessels with holes in them and human sacrifices such as have been documented in Belize and neighboring countries.
This essay focuses on the nearly human element of sea caves, where the Ocean and land merge. These places awe kayakers with powerful smashing surf, but sometimes they draw a paddler into a place of contemplation, to smell, hear and see the more subtle, ethereal aspect of these ocean and land spirits.
Caves like humans can have crabs that are not always obvious or easily detectable. Crabs scurrying along a rock wall with a light scraping sound and rapid movements can disappear into cracks and holes that first appear not to be there. Sea caves, even on the calmest days, breath and exhale as the simple surge moves in through the labyrinth only to be refracted back through the “open throat” of each unique cavity.
The result is often an irregular “breath” of respiration that blows out and back into the enclosed space, with a unique oceanic/earth aroma that bathes the paddler’s nostrils with a special blend of organisms, water and the particular musk of that spot. The frequency and rhythm of this breath often appears to have no clear pattern unless one remains in place for a long time.
The colors of the cave walls are often rich and beautiful, shimmering with reflected light coming from the mouth of the cave, almost like the iris of a human eye, none exactly the same and changing with the light. Those same colors transmute as the tide ebbs and flows, revealing diffracted waves of color.
As one sits quietly in a kayak in a cave only a meter from the mouth of another cave it can be like meeting a new person: the walls, the sounds, the distinct breath pattern, a unique configuration of features, a distinct identity. Then the “voice” of the cave speaks and you can hear subtle echoes, almost a form of chanting, depending on the acoustics.
This further calls the paddler to be still and listen carefully to what is being transmitted by the cave. As I sat in a sea cave in the heat of the day in the Sea of Cortez it was like having a conversation with a friend that allowed me to recalibrate, like a calming conversation with a relaxed colleague or a clear inner voice.
Sea caves can also be the last bastion of a friend’s protection as dynamic seas, tides or storm surge march up a sandy beach surrounded by cliffs. In these circumstances, as the tales of the Rangers are told, humans like oversized crabs can jam themselves far up into the safety and embrace of mother earth like a long hug from a reliable sturdy friend.
Sea caves can also surprise us with visitors such as seals, sea turtles, fish or birds popping their heads above the water in the darkness like friends, lovers or strangers, alarming or delighting the contemplative paddler floating beneath the arched caverns.
Finally, just like people in 2020, caves can be open and receptive to paddlers flowing through them in their kayaks, along with currents, tides and nutrients, or closed, dark, shuttered and not open to humans or the flow of change and regeneration.
We hope you have enjoyed these caves. Please share your sea cave experiences with us below. Thanks!